What would have served Confederate Infantry better? shorter range breech loaders, or longer range muzzle loaders?

atlantis

Sergeant Major
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Nov 12, 2016
What would have served confederate infantry better shorter range breech loaders or longer range muzzle loaders?
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
What would have served confederate infantry better shorter range breech loaders or longer range muzzle loaders?
The only source of copper for making cartridges in the Southern US was outside Chattanooga TN in Copper Hill. The only mill that could turn that copper into sheets was in Cleveland TN a few miles up the rail road.

Without the rail link through Chattanooga, the copper mine & the copper mill, the CSA could not have produced cartridges for repeating rifles. All three were captured in 1863 by the Tullahoma/Chattanooga Campaign. There was no possibility of running cartridges for repeaters through the blockade like caps were. Likewise, the CSA did not have the industrial base to replicate the Union complexes that produced millions of cartridges during the war,

In any case, there was no significant difference in the effective range of Spencer rifles or metallic cartridge carbines & muzzle loaders. As was dramatically demonstrated during the Tullahoma Campaign, rain soaked muzzle loaders could not fire at all under conditions that did not affect metal cartridges.

The direct answer is an emphatic no to the premise of the question asked on all counts. The CSA could not have produced metallic cartridges in volume. There was no difference in the effective range of metallic cartridge weapons & muzzle loaders except during bad weather. Under those conditions the muzzle loader’s effective range could became zero.

It is interesting to note that the effective range & lethality of muzzle loading smoothbore musket balls & arrows launched by archers or mechanical means came down in favor of the arrow. Of course, mastering the heavy pull of a war bow was a lifelong discipline. Almost anyone with four front teeth to tear cartridge paper could fire a musket. It can & has been noted many times that inclement weather could make both weapons useless.

The centuries long record of arrow vs muzzle loaded musket ball contains examples of each having a decisive tactical edge over the other. As the Zulus demonstrated, under the right tactical conditions, hand held edged weapons could be used to defeat trained soldiers armed with metallic cartridge rifles.

Surgeons who treated wounds inflicted by arrows & those by smoothbore muskets stated that arrow wounds were much harder to treat successfully. The bone shattering impact of a rifle bullet gave it a decided advantage over both arrow & musket ball.

Bottom line, of course, is that nobody who falls victim to a projectile weapon has much interest in the comparative lethality of projectiles that did not hit them. John Keagan, the much acclaimed British military historian, notes that the most common objects removed by surgeons from wounds during the age of close order black powder smoothbore musket warfare was other soldier’s teeth & bone splinters. The highly infectious nature of such projectiles gave them an edge in eventual lethality over any other.
 
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atlantis

Sergeant Major
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Nov 12, 2016
RC you have got up my curiosity with regard to the impossibility of volume importing of cartridges into the confederacy. The lose of East Tennessee was a big big lose but I wonder if there wasn't a work around. You know the old saying necessity is the mother of invention.
The thought behind my theme post is what could the CS do to compensate for having less men of military age.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
RC you have got up my curiosity with regard to the impossibility of volume importing of cartridges into the confederacy. The lose of East Tennessee was a big big lose but I wonder if there wasn't a work around. You know the old saying necessity is the mother of invention.
The thought behind my theme post is what could the CS do to compensate for having less men of military age.
The British weren’t manufacturing metal cartridges for export. I would be very surprised if anybody was. The needle gun bolt action
of that era used a paper cartridge.

The limited number of white men of military age available for army service in the South was hampered by the necessity of maintaining a enough men at home to suppress the slave population. From the very beginning of the conflict Jefferson Davis was deeply concerned that the necessity for slave patrols & the like would outnumber the army. That anxiety was the genius of the much hated 20 n——-r law.

It was loudly declared that loyal slaves would be armed & would slaughter any Yankees who were foolish enough to violate Southern soil with their cloven hoofs. Non-slaveholders, “.., would willingly die in the last ditch to protect the rights of their more fortunate slave-holding neighbors.”

As we know, the most trusted well trained house slaves were the first to run off & accept good paying jobs at first class hotels up North. Dying in the last ditch to save their social superiors’ slaves was not quite the recruiting poster that it was imagined to be. In1863, Davis stated that 3/4ths of the CSA army was AWOL.

No wonder weapon was going to solve the manpower crunch facing the CSA by 1863. In his letters to Davis before the Gettysburg Campaign, Lee explicitly stated that there was manpower enough for one last forlorn hope offensive to win the war. From that point onward, Lee accurately predicted that Union manpower would only grow & CSA strength would dwindle.

In June 1863, the Army of Tennessee had its largest number of men in the ranks. They had been refitted completely. The precipitant retreat from Tullahoma to Chattanooga triggered mass desertions by Tennessee troops. Officers were shot for allowing or encouraging their men to go home. The men of the Army of the Cumberland who entered the vast works surrounding Tullahoma without firing a shot were astonished to find brand new shining white tents abandoned where they stood. The retreating A of TN soldiers had cut long slashes in the tops to ruin them. The Cumberlanders feasted on the ample food left behind because of Bragg’s abrupt withdrawal.

Demonstrably, the CSA couldn’t properly support the troops they already had or concoct a strategy for their employment that made sense. A few more men one way or another were not going to revolutionize the military situation.
 
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FedericoFCavada

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San Antonio, Texas
In all honesty, I think that any army of the period was likely to be better off with a shorter-range breech-loader. What prevented that from happening was the available industrial plant, the output of arsenals and factories, and logistics of doing so.

A combustible paper cartridge might have allowed for great improvements in both breech-loading and muzzle-loading arms actually used in the war.

A metallic cartridge was not gonna happen until after the war, although certainly there were some... Many of these still externally detonated by a percussion cap! Maynard, Burnside, etc. There were also substances like gutta-percha and so on used for cartridges.

The firearm engagements of dismounted cavalry offer a clue of what the war might have been like but for the inability to give only cavalrymen in Federal service a breech-loading carbine. It's one of those things: The U.S. adopts the Hall system breech loader, but it becomes a dangerous and difficult weapon to use once it is worn and in need of servicing, and very expensive. Other nations take up the challenge, namely Prussia with the Zundnädelgewehr and Norway with the kammerlader. The U.S. goes back to muzzle-loaders, and most European Great Powers do the same... So it is curious that some national armies stuck with breech-loading in spite of its problems, while others went into the muzzle-loading rifle for quite some time before breech-loading became less problematic thanks to self-contained metallic cartridges.
 
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FedericoFCavada

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There was a sort of "last-ditch" prototype musket prototyped by an arsenal in South Carolina. It was relatively simple to make, with a lock mechanism copied from that of the Smith carbine, and dispensing with much of the lock plate of a more typical musket. It was smooth-bore, however, so it would have been a short-range muzzle loader best used with buck-and-ball or buckshot like a shotgun. Too little, too late. Still another curiosity is a CSA weapon in which the barrel and many fittings of old Halls breech-loaders (smooth-bores and rifles) were made up into--a muzzle-loading arm! The result was much more robust and less troublesome than a breech-loader. It's a fascinating arm of the Civil War. One profoundly wishes that reproductions of it might be made by the various Civil War arms rifle musket makers, except I think it then might become far more often encountered than it ever was during the actual war, no? :nah disagree:

Edited to add past thread with illustrations:
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/read-watson-carbine-breechloader-converted-to-muzzleloader.166949/
 
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FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
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<snip>

It is interesting to note that the effective range & lethality of muzzle loading smoothbore musket balls & arrows launched by archers or mechanical means came down in favor of the arrow. Of course, mastering the heavy pull of a war bow was a lifelong discipline. Almost anyone with four front teeth to tear cartridge paper could fire a musket. It can & has been noted many times that inclement weather could make both weapons useless.

The centuries long record of arrow vs muzzle loaded musket ball contains examples of each having a decisive tactical edge over the other. As the Zulus demonstrated, under the right tactical conditions, hand held edged weapons could be used to defeat trained soldiers armed with metallic cartridge rifles.

<snip>
At one particular low-point in Continental army fortunes during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin made the recommendation that the bow and arrow be issued, since it didn't use scarce and expensive gun powder, then in short supply, and was often simpler to maintain and service than a musket and its "stand of arms."

The suggestion was never acknowledged, let alone commented upon. It apparently affrighted any reasonable 18th-century military mind to contemplate using the weapon of savages. As you note, muskets supplanted the bow and the crossbow in the 16th century and after, particularly after the 17th century, because any peasant's son can be trained to use a musket with a supply of cartridges. Not so archery, which requires considerable practice and skill... Preferably from youth. Archers and arbalests/ballesteros/ crossbowmen were a bit like Medieval guilds: skilled at their mysterious craft. Certainly the Welsh longbow and its efficacy led English kings to insist that commoners practice with it and become proficient in its use... But yew trees were a finite resource, and eventually muskets and pikes came to define infantry combat.

It is sometimes claimed that the musket ball was more immediately incapacitating than most arrows... Certainly the flintlock musket is relatively simple to use, and with a supply of cartridges can be loaded and fired more quickly than many uninformed people think. Even the skilled Indian archer began to trade for and employ European muskets, and not only for whatever "cachet" the smoke, flame, sulphur and invisible projectile may have imparted... Eventually the musket gave the infantryman a projectile weapon, a short spear with the bayonet, or a heavy war club for "clubbed muskets." When first introduced, muskets were far too expensive a proposition for arming peasants. They were expendable. The musket certainly was not. But once Great Powers began to issue them out in larger numbers, it spurred something of an arms race. Army personnel of European nations would go through the arsenals and literally order the disposal of unwanted-because-obsolete musket patterns, **** the expense. To do otherwise would be disastrous in a battle with a rival peer armed force. I've often been surprised with how long the crossbow persisted in places like France, and certainly the cranequin crossbow of the Spanish conquistadores of the early 1500s was easily the most fearsome projectile weapon after the bombard and cannon in the Spaniards' panoply. The early button-trigger harquebuses were really miserably inefficient firearms, and there were far more crossbowmen at the start.

The musket was the first "universal weapon" that armed forces worldwide could recognize and use. It remained "queen of the battlefield" for centuries.
 
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Irishtom29

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Location
Kent, Washington
It's interesting that in 1782 when the Kentuckians were pursuing Caldwell (and fell into his ambush at Blue Licks) famed marksman Daniel Boone armed himself with a musket rather than a rifle, recognizing a musket's higher rate of fire was more important than a rifle's accuracy and range. And he killed an Indian with it at Blue Licks.
 

FedericoFCavada

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To answer the question, a shorter range breech loader. During WW II the most experienced armies, the Red Army and German army, both concluded a heavier volume of fire with adequate range was preferable to less fire capable of longer range, and both went to work on appropriate weapons.
Recall that in the age of black-powder as a propellant, barrels had to be long to burn the inefficient stuff and use it to its maximum potential... That, and the "pike mentality" where infantry had to be able to fix bayonets and form a dense defensive square against opponent cavalrymen intent on riding them down. The ability to fire in "ranks" or by "files" or what-have-you two ranks deep necessitated a barrel long enough that it went well past the ear and face of the shorter guy in front in linear tactics.

When rifles truly became long-range weapons, the range of engagements often increased a great deal, even if it was often dropping lead on an "area target" of an enemy formation. With smokeless powder, the ranges were often unprecedented. Check some of the battles in the Second Boer War, for instance. In the Civil War, it was small arms/ rifle musket fire that caused the most battle casualties (obviously disease was the real killer...). By WWI, it was artillery fire. Then there were also machine guns too.

Repeating rifles in military use typically used very powerful cartridges to maximize range, and to put down horses of enemy cavalry and the mules and draft horses that pulled or towed pretty much anything not slung from an infantryman... After WWI began, it surprised many to learn that engagement distances were much shorter than anyone had anticipated. No one wanted to be anyplace but under cover given artillery fire and machine guns and repeating rifles... During WWII, it was recognized that engagement ranges tended to be quite close, and the bulk of infantrymen were armed with powerful rifles that could theoretically reach out hundreds and hundreds of yards, but simply were not being used that way. Firepower made portable led to hand-held, shoulder-fired pistol-cartridge machine guns, i.e. the submachine gun (term invented by John Taliaferro Thompson of Auto-Ordnance) or the British usage "machine carbine" or the über-literal German "maschinenpistole." But pistol bullets were rather short ranged. Powerful cartridges made the design of a self-loading rifle, let alone a man-portable machinegun a difficult proposition. Enter the idea of an "intermediate power" cartridge that would be sufficiently lethal, but tailored for "realistic" combat ranges of say, 300 to 400 meters or yards, with the absolute bulk of those well within that... Like, say feet instead of yards. Hence the intermediate rifle cartridge, or to use the bellicose term that appealed to A. Hitler, "assault rifle" cartridge. An extraordinarily long development process. Arguably, the first war in which both sides had quantities of "assault rifles" was the U.S. phase of the Vietnam War.
 
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DixieRifles

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In any case, there was no significant difference in the effective range of Spencer rifles or metallic cartridge carbines & muzzle loaders.
I agree. The original post seemed to assume a muzzleloader could not shoot very far. That may be true for a Brown Bess firing a .69 caliber spherical ball. The Minie ball had a flatter trajectory due to less drag.
And Im not sure you would want to reduce the range of a weapon. Maybe to increase rate of fire?
 

FedericoFCavada

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I agree. The original post seemed to assume a muzzleloader could not shoot very far. That may be true for a Brown Bess firing a .69 caliber spherical ball. The Minie ball had a flatter trajectory due to less drag.
And Im not sure you would want to reduce the range of a weapon. Maybe to increase rate of fire?
Smooth bore muskets are strictly short-range weapons. A rifle musket and a Pritchett or Lorenz or Minié/Burton ball is a whole other story. Again, Claud Fuller's dated work on U.S. rifle muskets is still an important basis for understanding what the Civil War rifle musket was designed to to do, and what its capabilities were. These were formidable weapons indeed. The actual employment of the new technology, however, was not up to the potential of the arms themselves. It was, after all, the "nut behind the trigger" that determined so much. This tendency certainly did not change. If anything, it became more acute in the mass technified "wars of military Fordism" of the 20th century.

Higher velocity typically translates into "flatter shooting" so that if a firer does not have a clear idea of the range, or the situation is so fluid and confusing that there is no real opportunity to alter sight ranges or fumble with the sights, a disabling hit on the foe can still be managed... Minié/Burton balls have much, much greater range than round ball, but there is a sort of "rainbow trajectory" that can send the projectiles sailing harmlessly far over the heads of the hapless enemy so targeted. Correct adjustment of the sights would create far more hapless and helpless enemies, of course. The "gap" in the ability to actually do fearful damage to the enemy led many Civil War tacticians and NCOs and officers to wait until it was almost impossible to miss before opening fire. They didn't want to expend ammunition wastefully, foul the muskets, and give their position away, so it was often best to wait. While it may beggar belief, in trench fighting or extended contact with the enemy, situations arose where picked marksmen or skirmishers would assume a firing position under cover, and the less expert shots would simply load their rifles and hand them over to the sharpshooter. Taking a single-shot muzzle-loading weapon and through cooperation and practice, turn it into a multi-shot weapon system of sorts.

The ranges got shorter and shorter as troops fought in forest, fortified/entrenched belts, and in urban areas especially. The shortness and handiness of carbines finally began to make inroads into the infantry shoulder arms. By WWI, only the United States and the UK were in possession of "short rifles" designed to be used by mounted cavalry or regular plodding foot soldiers. Every other nation's armies persisted in the long "infantry rifle," although certainly the French army and that of Wilhelmine Germany began to issue ever greater numbers of short-barreled carbines. Most far sighted ballistics experts and ordnance engineers advocated a reduced power and reduced range cartridge, simply to make an efficient man-portable shoulder-arm. There was a counter-tendency to rely on extremely far range machine gun fire, which then seemed to necessitate the same single cartridge being used in service rifles as in machine guns. In our own nation, this led to an abrupt reversal from a 1920s-era 7mm/ .276 Pedersen cartridge designed by the eminent Danish descended Nebraska gun designer John Pedersen, which was slated for the first-ever self-loading service rifle (he thought his own design would win, but instead it went to the French Canadian-born John Cantius Garand's M1, to the old .30-06 cartridge in the 1930s since that was the bulk of the ammunition reserve, and it is what all the machine guns were chambered for... The .30-06 cartridge remains in widespread use to this day as a hunting cartridge. It is powerful enough to take literally any North American game animal... Human beings are much, much more fragile it turns out.
 

FedericoFCavada

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Would the ANV, armed with AK-47s and 50 round clips have been able to win the war for the Confederacy? Serious question.




Ok, sorry. Really. On vacation in Baja and a bit tipsy on the local beer. 😁
Ha! I seem to recall one or another science fiction or "alternate history" book along those lines...? Certainly the Kalashnikov has sort of brought small arms full circle... In the age of musketry, it was about the rate of fire, and the sheer weight of a regiments volleys that would win through grisly attrition... A bit like the broadside of a wooden-hulled fighting ship: How much shot or "weight of broadside" is thrown and how often... Do the grim attritional math! over time, the side that fired most frequently would win. So rate of fire or firepower was considered primary, and accuracy a distant second.

Fast forward, and any 14 year old child soldier can depress the trigger of a Kalashnikov.... "and they do."
 

DixieRifles

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Smooth bore muskets are strictly short-range weapons. A . . . . .

Higher velocity typically translates into "flatter shooting" so that if a firer does not have a clear idea of the range, or the situation is so fluid and confusing that there is no real opportunity to alter sight ranges or fumble with the sights, a disabling hit on the foe can still be managed... Minié/Burton balls have much, much greater range than round ball,
Thanks for the history lesson.
I tried to remember some of the data from the back of the old Dixie Gun Works catalog. I seem to recall the Brown Bess' trajectory dropped 5 feet at 150 yards.

I just found this chart. Vertical axis is Inches.
It does say that at 150 yards, the ball would drop ~60 inches.

Trajectory.JPG



But I wasn't really considering smoothbore muzzle loaders in this discussion.
 
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